Contemplations | Lea Nikel
Opening: Saturday Sep. 16, 2017
Contemplations: Lea Nikel's Treated Prints
Smadar Sheffi, Ph.D
Lea Nikel's oeuvre is characterized by a search for compositional balance: a - restless curious, bemused, skeptical search. In a world teeming with—stains and lines, in the closed universe which is her body of works, Nikel created a kingdom with checks and balances, complex sensitivities that would be utopic in a different realm.
The works in "Contemplations" date between the 1980s and the 2000s, when Nikel was already an Israeli cultural icon. Receiving the Israel Prize in 1995 only confirmed her unique status. The collages and paintings on prints, works rarely exhibited, elucidated qualities and modes of creation, different from her larger, more recognized works. They are charming and captivating —yet refuse to be deciphered or limited to one interpretation, and therein lies their strength.
The longer we observe, the more pieces of meaning and fragments of association come to mind. The variety is breathtaking: Nikel used free lines, and offered the viewer freedom from narrative. At the time when art felt a growing obligation to discuss political reality, Nikel gazed inwards and distilled essences like an alchemist in a closed laboratory, seeking the philosopher's stone that will offer all answers. Within the limited boundaries of print, Nikel's deliberations, groping and second thoughts all appear in full strength. There lies the source of the works' poetical quality.
Nikel often chose to work on different copies of a print, thus enabling us to follow her approaches to work on identical surfaces. She examined options, weighed possibilities. Thus, she once painted a pale-blue lithograph (1984) with orange and a little green, using wide brush strokes; and at another time, with brown and ocher (1–2). Using the orange, she covered and rearranged; using the ocher and brown, she sort of placed a grille, accentuated lyrical qualities, formal nuances. Nikel took calculated risks—working on prints could be considered work with a safety net which allowed her to explore new ground.
One can almost feel the brush dancing. To the surface, already saturated with her chosen color, Nikel added shapes that divide it almost geometrically, as well as what seems like the mathematical symbol representing infinity. She would examine opaque colors against transparent ones, patches against lines, as if fine-tuning a musical instrument in search for an accurate sound hue.
Alongside works that feel like fireworks suspended mid-air, some works are revealed in which Nikel added to the print as a way to assert memories, utilizing previous works like building blocks from a dilapidated old building in order to construct a future edifice. She attached torn pieces from one of her prints onto a silkscreen dated 1992 (13); they look like the rubble of a lost city, sharply emerging from the background, accentuating its flatness. The page's slight span provides plenty of place for a formal drama.
In a collage comprised of silkscreen and acrylic on paper (15), Nikel tore a page and ascribed the tear line the status of a proper line, gluing brown paper over it, then dotting it with acrylic, as if playfully decorating it. She seems to have been sarcastic about the idea of decoration, constantly stretching the thin lines between the lightly free and the chaotic.
In a work which Nikel dated 1992–1993, i.e. one on which she worked and to which she returned, she painted over a print with red acrylic: the color is light, but penetrates the print like blood. Here, as in works from 1997, there is the same sense of observing a Rorschach blot: some images are almost figurative, especially in a black print on which she painted orange and blue patches (17) (perhaps an abstract plant, perhaps a figure emerging from the darkness), or others that seem like deconstructed calligraphy (18). Nikel created a diptych from identical prints. She added onto a print whose central image is reminiscent of an hourglass (20, 21) with Panda and with acrylic, as if examining two reality options. Using blue, orange, ocher and light blue acrylic, she masked the shape, offering a moment of disruption. She used Panda to follow the central image in the print, filling the page with orangey pink. The Panda raises the shape's anthropomorphic element: perhaps an eye at the upper part, perhaps an upside-down figure, its arms crossed under its neck, at the lower part of the sheet.
In a work in Panda and acrylic from 2000 (24), Nikel toyed with reds, constructing an array that seems to be framing a center, or at times a portrait. Like other works in the exhibition, this is a compressed, intensive work whose power lies in Nikel's daring to place colors side by side fearlessly, ignoring conventions of taste. This disregard of mainstream dictation of taste was one of Nikel's central characteristics, especially during the time when "Contemplations" was made, when the major trend in Israel tended more than ever to the figurative and narrative.
A comprehensive observation of Nikel's body of small, delicate works is comparable to leafing through a diary: daily trivialities alongside inner outbursts, memories and thoughts about what might have been. A stunning hurling of color, a drawing that strings capillaries on the page and links parts, a gluing that covers and stitches together, trying to change, perhaps heal, what dwells in the past.
1. Untitled, 1984. Lithography, Indian ink, acrylic
2. Untitled, 1984. Lithography, Indian ink, acrylic
3. Untitled, 1984. Lithography, Indian ink, acrylic
4. Untitled, 1999. Lithography, acrylic
5. Untitled, 1991. Silkscreen, acrylic
6. Untitled, 1991. Silkscreen, acrylic
7. Untitled, 1991. Silkscreen, acrylic
8. Untitled, 1991. Silkscreen, acrylic
9. Untitled, 1991. Silkscreen, acrylic
10. Untitled, 1991. Silkscreen, acrylic
11. Untitled, 1991. Silkscreen, pastel, acrylic
12. Untitled, 1992. Silkscreen, acrylic
13. Untitled, 1992. Silkscreen, collage
14. Untitled, 1992. Silkscreen, acrylic
15. Untitled, 1992. Collage, silkscreen, acrylic
16. Untitled, 1994. Etching, acrylic
17. Untitled, 1997. Etching, acrylic
18. Untitled, 1997. Etching, panda, acrylic
19. Untitled, 1999. Etching, acrylic
20. Untitled, 1999. Etching, acrylic. Diptych (detail, right)
21. Untitled, 1999. Etching, panda. Diptych (detail, left)
22. Untitled, 1999. Etching, pencil, water color
23. Untitled, 1999. Etching, pencil, water color
24. Untitled, 2000. Etching, panda, acrylic
25. Untitled, 2000s. Silkscreen, Indian ink
26. Untitled, 1984. Lithography, pencil, acrylic
27. Untitled, 1984. Lithography, panda, acrylic
28. Untitled, 1992-1999. Lithography, panda, pencil, acrylic
29. Untitled, 1999. Lithography, panda, acrylic
Lea Nikel wears her blue robe, the Cabri Print Workshop, the 90's